Carissa Eisler's first science experiment could have been her last.
When she was 7, Eisler and a friend decided to "play chemist" by mixing various noxious liquids they found in the garage. They survived without harm, but when Eisler's parents found out, she feared her days as a scientist were over.
Instead, she says, after their initial horror subsided "they had the best reaction possible: they encouraged my curiosity. From that point on, a lot of my birthday presents were science gifts—which were always used in well-ventilated areas."
In the 19 years since then, Eisler has pursued her passion for science, earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from UCLA and working to earn a doctorate in the same subject from Caltech. One reason she chose to come to Caltech was her desire to work with Harry Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Materials Science.
Soon after entering Caltech as a graduate student, Eisler began working in Atwater's lab on photovoltaics—the conversion of solar energy into electrical energy using semiconducting materials. She was part of a group tasked with developing an ultrahigh-efficiency solar-cell module that involves designing solar collectors, optical components, and electronics.
Eisler defended her thesis in the fall of 2015 and joined Paul Alivisatos's group at UC Berkeley.